There are two types of stuffed manicotti recipes in this world: The first is a red sauce joint classic made with large, store-bought manicotti shells, a cheese filling, and sometimes ground beef. The other subs thin homemade crepes (crespelle in Italian) for the pasta shells, yielding a more delicate result. This recipe takes the latter route, and according to BA’s own (totally biased) Brad Leone, it’s the greatest manicotti recipe of all time.
Making crespelle may take a bit of getting used to, so don’t be discouraged if the first few tries aren’t perfect. You may not want to use them for the recipe, but don’t trash them completely: they make for a delicious stove-side snack. The three-cheese spinach filling is easy and straightforward, and while you can make the whole-milk ricotta cheese from scratch if you please, you certainly don’t have to. (No piping bag required: the egg-cheese mixture can easily be spooned into the crespelle.) We do, however, recommend making your own marinara.
Yes, this recipe is a project, but all the prep time is well worth it. You can do what Brad does: Double the recipe, pop one in the freezer, reheat it in a baking dish a month later, and appreciate having already had your dinner planned and ready ahead of time. The work is also easily split up over two days: On the first, make the filling and the marinara and refrigerate both. On the second, invite friends or family to help make and fill the crespelle. After baking, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, garnish with a bit of chopped fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese, and serve any remaining sauce on the side. Add a big green salad and Italian sausage or meatballs for a hearty meal.